Book Review: All The Lonely People by Mike Gayle

All The Lonely People

I really enjoyed the last Mike Gayle book – and so when I saw this on NetGalley I jumped at the chance of a review copy!

I didn’t read about the book in advance, I just thought ‘oh, another book with song lyrics as a title’ – but here you go with the blurb:

“Life is waiting to happen to Hubert Bird.
But first he has to open his front door and let it in.
In weekly phone calls to his daughter in Australia, widower Hubert Bird paints a picture of the perfect retirement, packed with fun, friendship and fulfilment.
But Hubert Bird is lying.
The truth is day after day drags by without him seeing a single soul.
Until, that is, he receives some good news – good news that in one way turns out to be the worst news ever, news that will force him out again, into a world he has long since turned his back on.
Now Hubert faces a seemingly impossible task: to make his real life resemble his fake life before the truth comes out.
Along the way Hubert stumbles across a second chance at love, renews a cherished friendship and finds himself roped into an audacious community scheme that seeks to end loneliness once and for all . . .
Life is certainly beginning to happen to Hubert Bird. But with the origin of his earlier isolation always lurking in the shadows will he ever get to live the life he’s pretended to have for so long?
From bestselling author Mike Gayle, All the Lonely People is by turns a funny and moving meditation on love, race, old age and friendship that will not only charm and uplift, but also remind you of the power of ordinary people to make an extraordinary difference.”

As I started reading I realised that Hubert was an octogenarian – interestingly at our virtual book club last week we’d discussed how almost all of us 40 somethings would often be put off a book if it was about old people – but how we’d actually read some wonderful books with older leads (‘Saving Missy’ and ‘A Man Called Ove’ are now on my TBR pile).  So I had high hopes that Hubert would win me over!

It’s set partly in the present day and partly in the 1950s when Hubert first came to the UK from Jamaica. With recent publicity of the Windrush generation this seemed particularly topical.  Equally at one point when Hubert is looking for lodgings he sees a poster saying ‘No blacks, no dogs, no Irish’ – which again is very relevant currently with all of the discussions about race in the UK and US.  It is clearly an integral part of the storyline – and his mixed race relationship with his wife Joyce – and is really well written and I found really informative and thought provoking.

The alternate flashback chapters race through the years at key times in Hubert’s life – between arriving in England and the present day explaining the relationship with Joyce and their children, Rose and David, and the twists and turns of their relationships.

In another highly relevant sentence – the long drive between London and Durham is referenced too!!

In the present day Hubert meets Ashleigh and her daughter Layla who have moved in next door and they strike up an unlikely friendship.  Now I have a silly niggle about Ashleigh.  When she’s in Hubert’s house for the first time she is looking at some of the books that Hubert’s professor daughter Rose, who lives in Australia, has written.  Ashleigh struggles over the world ‘Millenium’ in the title. However, Ashleigh is Welsh – and until 2016, the home of Welsh rugby in Cardiff was the Millenium Stadium (now the Principality Stadium) – so I just don’t think it’s a word a valleys’ girl would struggle with!  But I realise I am a totally overthinking pedant………..

Hubert and Ashleigh set about starting up a group to combat loneliness in Bromley.  Interestingly I also found this uber relevant.  At the start of the coronavirus crisis I was involved with setting up a group in our Worcestershire village to help people.  Initially this was for emergency shopping / prescription collection for the elderly and infirm who were shielding – but it quickly became evident that loneliness was a massive factor for people too – and lockdown was amplifying this.

The community feel of the group to combat loneliness also reminded me of the book ‘The Lido’ by Libby Page – I really think Hubert and Rosemary would have got along! It was all so lovely.

There were a couple of moments that were quite shocking and took the plot in a different direction – but it was all beautifully written, as you would expect from the author.

The final chapter was a surprise and not what I expected it to be at all – and I cried (although at the moment I cry at almost anything!)

I said on Twitter yesterday that ‘Half A World Away’ was my favourite lockdown read – but I think Mr Gayle has just usurped himself and takes Gold and Silver lockdown book awards from me – I really, really enjoyed this.  A great story – but also relevant, thought provoking. informative, emotional and just plain lovely.

Slightly off on a tangent, but I’ve always thought of Mike Gayle as a Brummie author – South Birmingham at that (fully explained in my last book review of one of his books) rather than a black author.  I’m not saying ‘I don’t see colour’ or anything tw*tty like that – I just didn’t think it was an issue for me when choosing what to read.  However, I then thought – if I looked at my reading history (usefully recorded in this blog) how many of the authors would be from exactly the same background as me – a white, working class made good, woman.  Is this because I’m instinctively drawn to books written by people like me? Is it because I look at recommendations in women’s magazines / blogs?  Is it that the publishing industry is also heavily biased?  I’m not sure I have any definitive answers – but it has made me think that I should consider this in book selections in the future.  Reading more widely – and getting differing opinions in life written by a variety of people – can only be a good thing.

Thanks Mike Gayle for another fabulous book, and to NetGalley and the publishers for my advanced review copy.  Pre order your copy now for later in July 2020.